A Lens to Consider

Tamron is a photographic lens manufacturer with a long and honored reputation. I have used Tamron lenses off and on for years. I haven’t gotten a new lens for quite some time, but I saw a zoom by Tamron that just may change that. This lens might be ideal for anyone with physical issues.

The lens I am referring to is the Tamron 16-300mm or 18.8x Zoom. It is a real wide angle to real telephoto all-in-one. It’s apertures ranging from F3.5 to F6.3 and is currently manufactured in mounts for Sony, Nikon, and Canon DSLRs.

First of all, I would like to thank Tamron for loaning me the Sony A Mount lens for this evaluation.

Don’t expect some confusing technical review. I am first looking for a lens that is easy for my physically challenged friends to use and second for a great pictures.

My wife and I planned to go to Pismo Beach, California to see the end of the annual Monarch Butterfly migration. Having seen and photographed them before, I had a pretty good idea what gear I would need. Wide angles and telephotos were at the top of the list.

I have lenses to cover almost the complete range of focal lengths provided by the Tamron lens, so I decided to leave them in the motel room, but added a polarizing filter and a 1.7x AF Tele-converter to the mix for this outing.

                     Sony Alpha A77 with Tamron 16-300mm zoom

The weather did not co-operate for the two days we were there. Fog, rain, low temperatures and heavy overcast made it nearly impossible for the butterflies to move or for anyone to take any kind of photograph. Consequently, most of the pictures were taken of areas where I thought the little creatures were clustered, not where they could actually be seen.

The docents in the butterfly grove said the count was 15,000 butterflies, but the only way most people could see them was by looking through telescopes trained on clusters or by using binoculars.

The photos below were taken at a distance of about 60 feet where the insects were clustered high in the eucalyptus trees. The dark mass could be seen against the bright background sky, but that was all that could be focused on. The first photo is the image at the 300mm extension, while the next image is a cropped section of that same frame. Notice that the image clarity for the cropped section is superb considering the the distance and small size of the subjects.

                 Monarch cluster with 300mm
Clustered from 300mm image above

Under these lighting conditions a polarizing filter was not necessary, but this was a perfect opportunity to use the 1.7x Tele-converter; but it didn’t work … however, read on.

The Plus Side

Currently this lens is made for Canon, Nikon and Sony DSLRs. The Canon and Nikon versions have anti-shake compensation (termed VC) built in, while the Sony camera body itself provides this feature.

The twist zoom is tight enough to hold itself in a fixed position while smooth enough to make the transition between settings nearly effortless. When the camera and lens is hung around the neck, the lens barrel can be locked in the 16mm position such that it won’t accidentally “telescope” out where it could get in the way or be damaged.

Both the zoom and the focus ring have a nice feel and good grip. When using the lens in manual focus mode the action is smooth and appears to hold its position quite well.

At the 16mm position, the lens is 4.25 inches (10.8cm) long and at the fully extended 300mm setting is 7.25 inches (18.4cm) without the tulip hood, which adds another inch plus (1.7CM) to the total assembly. The lens itself has no means of support, as most fixed primary lenses with a 300mm or better focal length do, but the construction of the body and the low weight make it easily hand held.

Speaking of weight, my current kit of lenses, that would more or less cover this 16-300mm range, weigh in at 5.75 lbs (2.6 Kilos) while this Tamron lens weighs in at a mere 19oz or .54 Kilos, just one fifth the weight of my current lenses.

From left to right: Sigma 300mm, 70-210mm zoom, 28-80mm zoom with macro, .45x wide angle adapter, 1.7x tele-converter adapter, Tamron 16-300mm lens at 16mm and 300mm extensions.

I took a series of images to demonstrate the full range of the lens. In addition, I added the 1.7x tele-converter for good measure. I decided to do all of these images hand held just to see what the full assembly could do in a typical non-staged environment. In addition to the images below the full test can be seen here. The target is almost dead center in the 16mm frame. To see the full set, click HERE.

16mm extension                                                                              300mm extension

16-300mm lens with 1.7x Tele-converter

The Auto Focus (AF) of this lens is really nice. It is fast, and much quieter than my other lenses; my older lenses tend to have a definite “smack” when they hit the end of travel. That noise has more than once scared away animals and birds like hummingbirds feeding at the feeders hanging on my porch.

Most current DSLRs are capable of video recording. This lens adds a new dimension to videos of all kinds of sports, graduations and other activities. Because it is a very smooth continuous zoom, and only requires a less than ¼ twist, stop to stop on the zoom, it would be a cinch to capture all of the action with no lens changes. Adding a shotgun mic mounted on the flash shoe would be a winning combination.

I attached the 1.7x tele-converter between the camera body and the lens. It did not work and I did not understand the error message the camera generated, so I didn’t try to do anything about it. Later, when I read the manual and made some inquiries of Sony and Tamron, I made an adjustment to the camera settings and it worked.

I must say here that Support Services from both Sony and Tamron got back to me within 24 hours and were very professional in their responses.

The only drawback to using the tele-converter with the Sony camera body and the Tamron 16-300mm lens is that the AF is disabled. To me, this is a small price to pay for such a large dividend. True, although the full extension to the equivalent of 510mm may seldom be used by the average photographer, it may become a commonly used function by the physically challenged. Whereas the average photographer may be able to approach his subject and use shorter lenses, the physically challenged photographer can cover the full range of 22-510mm and reach out to a subject he would normally struggle to capture; and speaking of approaching the subject, the Macro capability of the lens proved to be quite good.

               Tamron in Macro Mode

Some Drawbacks

As a good friend of mine points out, the lens has some chromatic aberration , which could be of concern for a professional photographer, but for people that are shooting for pleasure, there should be no problem. He also pointed out that current versions of some photo editing software are able to correct this unwanted effect. John uses Lightroom and I use Paint Shop Pro as well as Aftershot Pro 3, all of which have software correction for chromatic aberration as well as vignetting, barrel distortion and other conditions created by lenses. You will also find that even some freeware, such as GIMP, provide corrective routines. To learn how to use these features Google “How to correct for Chromatic Aberration in ….”.

Although the lens comes with a tulip lens hood, the weather pointed out some of it’s shortcomings. Since I didn’t need it, I turned it around and put it in the stowed position over the barrel of the lens. This presented a problem in using the zoom since it covers a good portion of the zoom grip, leaving only limited grip options. Even on a sunny day, it is problematic because it covers the end of the lens. Attachment of a filter without removing the hood is next to impossible. Using a polarized filter, the hood would need to be removed in order to adjust the filter; otherwise the hand would be in front of the lens and the resulting image and amount of polarization could not be judged.

One solution to the provided hood would be to use a 67-72mm step up ring on the end of the lens, and a 72mm collapsible lens hood (Available on-line for as little as $10 USD). This would not only better allow the use of filters, but prevents lens flares and vignetting while still adding some amount of protection from lens damage when it gets banged into something. (I have designed a unique, and cheaper solution, but I haven’t found any takers to manufacture it).

It should be obvious, but in order to use the lenses I own, shooting a telephoto followed by a wide angle would require a change of lenses and time. The same transition would take just a second to twist and shoot with the Tamron lens; which could mean getting the picture of the whale breaching off the port bow or not.

Conclusion

Would this lens be better if it was an f-2 and cost half as much. Sure. Would I buy this lens now? Absolutely!

I think this is a great lens and would well serve me and anyone with physical challenges. As soon as I can save enough from my Social Security check, I’ll get one.

If you own or are considering buying a Sony, Canon or Nikon, you really have to consider getting this lens. It is listed at $599.99 MSRP, but can be found in the $449.99 range at most major on-line outlets.

As far as I can determine, there are no zoom lenses in the Sony arsenal that cover the range this Tamron lens covers. The closest lens in their lineup, a 18-250mm, is also priced at $599.99 MSRP, but generally is listed on the net at a somewhat higher price; go figure.

Nikon offers two lenses in the same range at $699.99 and $999.99 MSRP, but can currently be found on Internet retailers for $519.99 and $674.99.

Canon’s closest offering appears to be a 28-300mm at $2,449.99.

Some additional photographs can be seen here. The “Butty Fries” post will also have additional photos when it is posted in a few weeks.

If you have a comment, please don’t hesitate to post it. And if you have friends that might like this blog be sure and have them stop by and subscribe.

2 thoughts on “A Lens to Consider

  1. Well done, Bill. The problem with every photo review I’ve read is that they focus on objective examinations of products and then bore the reader with too many meaningless statistics. Consumer Reports comes to mind.

    I know of no sources of regularly published subjective reviews that paint a picture for the reader for what they should experience with the products in their own two hands. Your review does just that, and it does it well. Congratulations.

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